Seltzer: Coventry Budget Problem 'Could Have Been Avoided'
The former CCFD chief speaks about the Central Coventry Fire District's recent financial problems — and how it informed his decision to move to Smithfield.
After watching the recent budget issues in his former fire department — including a decision to pursue receivership for the Central Coventry Fire District — new Smithfield Fire Chief Robert Seltzer spoke with Patch about the issue.
"It could have been avoided," Seltzer said during a phone interview. "I attended the financial meeting, since I'm still a resident and a taxpayer in that district — the budget was presented very poorly. Questions were asked to the board about the tax rate, about the deliquencies and the debt, and the board couldn't provide concrete answers, and it upset the people at the meeting."
Seltzer also said that he moved to Smithfield — which, unlike Coventry, centralizes its fire and rescue service under the town government — partly to avoid such issues.
"The system here is more efficient — in Coventry, you have four districts there, so I was looking to move on," Seltzer explained. "A small fact in my decision has been what's gone on in the last year and a half — the district became a political football for some residents."
The main financial problem in Central Coventry, Seltzer said, is that it's got past delinquencies — reported by Coventry Patch to be $200,000, and a nearly $1 million overall deficit — and without approving a higher budget this year, "there was nowhere else to get the funds" to make up the difference.
"It's a fixable road, but quite frankly, I don't blame the taxpayers because at the meeting, they weren't given concrete answers about where their taxes were going," he explained.
[Read more: Central Coventry Fire District Board Financial Reports, Budget Nixed, from Coventry Patch, Oct. 3, 2012.]
Once the Coventry district issues tax bills, "the payments come back quickly — usually, within two or three days, you're collecting $50,000, $60,000, $70,000 a day." Seltzer added.
To the suggestion that the town should combine all of its fire departments — presumably to lower costs — Seltzer said there are some legal hurdles in the way.
"I know that the [Coventry] Town Charter has a provision that allows the town to put in place a single fire department, but the problem is that the assest of the department don't belong to the town," Seltzer explained. "They belong to private corporations, which are the fire districts — so, other than getting a court order to seize those assets, the town would literally have no assets."
Seltzer also said he feels the Coventry situation is a case of "people running off of emotion instead of logical thinking, and I feel bad, because it's a great department, they're good people, and it's a great town — it's sad to see this happen."